PM’s speech in Parliament: Covid-19

Singapore handled Covid-19 pandemic well, with some lessons to be drawn

With hindsight, the Government would have done some things differently, says PM Lee

A regional screening centre set up at Bukit Gombak Sports Hall. In his Parliament speech, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong paid tribute to the "heroic efforts of many unsung heroes" involved in the Covid-19 fight. He also said that critical to the succ
A regional screening centre set up at Bukit Gombak Sports Hall. In his Parliament speech, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong paid tribute to the "heroic efforts of many unsung heroes" involved in the Covid-19 fight. He also said that critical to the success of Singapore's pandemic response was the cooperation of its citizens, noting how people complied with measures to contain the virus. ST PHOTO: NG SOR LUAN

Singapore has done well in handling the coronavirus pandemic so far in terms of health outcomes, though its response was not without shortcomings, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

Joining the debate on the President's Address in Parliament yesterday, he noted that the country's fatality rate is one of the lowest in the world, with new infections in the community down to just a handful a day and fewer than 100 patients remaining in hospitals.

With hindsight, the Government would have done some things differently, he said.

Had it known earlier that Covid-19 patients were asymptomatic, it would have quarantined all Singaporeans who returned home from abroad in March, instead of only those returning from certain countries.

He added that they would have also been tested before being released from quarantine, even if they did not show any symptoms, instead of assuming that no symptoms meant no infection.

The Government would have also recommended the wearing of face masks sooner, said PM Lee, noting that it took the best available scientific advice at the time and changed its policy once the World Health Organisation recognised that asymptomatic transmission was a major problem.

PM Lee also said the authorities would have acted more quickly and aggressively to control the rapid spread of the disease in migrant worker dormitories.

The Government knew that communal living in dorms posed an infection risk and stepped up precautions, which seemed adequate, until the bigger clusters broke out and threatened to overwhelm it, he said.

"All this is wisdom after the fact. We must learn from these errors, and do better the next time," he said. "In the fog of war, it is not possible always to make the perfect decisions. Yet we have to decide and move. We cannot afford to wait."

Due to the scale and complexity of Singapore's response to Covid-19, there have inevitably been some "rough edges", said PM Lee.

He cited the foreign worker dormitory situation, and how work is being done to help workers get back to their jobs now that dorms have been cleared of the disease.

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Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong asserted that Singapore will come back stronger from the Covid-19 crisis. He also debated with Pritam Singh on the nature of the Opposition in Singapore politics.

This has to be done safely because of the risk of re-emerging cases, he said, acknowledging this was a complicated exercise that has made things difficult for employers, especially contractors, who have to deal with new rules even as they try to revive their businesses.

"But I hope they understand that we are doing our best to smooth things out, and are doing all this in order to keep our people safe."

And while many countries talked about letting the disease spread to develop herd immunity early on, PM Lee said Singapore avoided doing so, as it would cause many here to get ill and die, especially the old and vulnerable.

The Prime Minister added: "We were determined, right from the very beginning, not to go down that route. We did our utmost to contain the outbreak and keep Singaporeans safe. And this meant mobilising all our national resources."

Through the building up of contact tracing and testing capabilities, Singapore is now able to do 20,000 laboratory tests daily, noted PM Lee, adding that the country can test several times that number of people due to pooled testing.

Singapore expanded its healthcare system to treat a high number of cases - doubling its intensive care unit capacity and setting up temporary community care and isolation facilities. This, said PM Lee, allowed it to create more beds than in all its acute hospitals put together, all within a few weeks.

Yesterday, he also held up the work done by the Singapore Armed Forces and the Home Team in handling the situation in the migrant worker dorms.

And touching on the circuit breaker period Singapore went through from early April to June, he said that the Government had timed it right to slow down the spread of Covid-19.

"Each of these operations was huge, and all of them had to be done in parallel. Thanks to the heroic efforts of many unsung heroes, working quietly behind the scenes, we got here today," he said.

Singapore could not have mounted its Covid-19 response without the public service, PM Lee said, which worked tirelessly to build new capabilities and stepped up outside of its scope of work.

The political leadership played a key role, and he noted that without the Cabinet, the public service alone could not have done its job.

The ministers defined priorities, made major decisions and directed civil servants in implementing Covid-19 response measures. They also worked to win public support and took responsibility for these efforts, said PM Lee.

Businesses pitched in by putting their people to work on solutions to bolster the nationwide Covid-19 fight by taking steps like setting up mask production lines, scouring the world for test equipment and constructing care facilities.

But critical to the success of Singapore's pandemic response was the cooperation of its citizens. Despite how severely affected their lives were, they complied with the measures, said PM Lee.

Singaporeans understood the need for tough and painful measures, he noted, and they took these on calmly and stoically, as they had confidence that the Government would see them through the crisis and beyond.

"I am very grateful for their cooperation and support. Their support will remain crucial as we continue the fight to keep Singaporeans safe," he said.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 03, 2020, with the headline Singapore handled Covid-19 pandemic well, with some lessons to be drawn. Subscribe